NYERERE NATIONAL PARK

One of the largest wildlife havens in the world and Tanzania’s largest National Park, the Nyerere National Park (previously named the Selous Game Reserve) is just South of Dar es Salaam and is home to diverse wildlife experiences, away from the mainstream tourist circuit.

With the life-giving Rufiji river meandering through the heart of this area, it is one of the best places to encounter countless hippos, crocodiles and birdlife up-close during a boating safari. The Rufiji’s many tributaries, side streams and small lakes are an invaluable life force for wildlife.

The combination of traditional, land-based game drives and walking safaris plus water-based safaris makes it great value in a truly remote wilderness area. Wildlife habitats include open grasslands, Miombo woodlands, lakes, swamps and riverine forests.

When was the Nyerere National Park established?

The Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) established the Nyerere National Park in 2019. An area of 30,893 km2 (11,928 sq mi) in the northern part of the well-known Selous Game Reserve, just South of Dar es Salaam, was portioned off for inclusion in TANAPA’s portfolio of national parks. It is now one of the world’s largest wildlife sanctuaries at twice the size of Belgium. This new park was named for Tanzania’s founding father of the nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who passed away in 1999. Though this park is newly established, the entire Selous Game Reserve spanning a massive 54,600km² traces its historical roots back to 1896. More than a century later, in 1982 the reserve gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status, recognising the importance of its position as a wildlife corridor with Mozambique’s Niassa reserve to the south. Adding a portion of this reserve to TANAPA’s esteemed portfolio of parks raises its profile as a well-managed and thriving, protected eco system in Tanzania.  

The history of the Selous Game Reserve

The Selous (pronounced ‘se-loo’) Game Reserve, now Nyerere NP remains one of Africa’s oldest and largest protected areas. In 1896 it was proclaimed as a protected wildlife hunting reserve by the then German Governor of Tanganyika. In 1922 the reserve was named after a British explorer, officer, hunter and conservationist called Frederick Courteney Selous. Frederick was born in London in 1851 and became a professional hunter at the age 20. Though he started out as a big game hunter, his books centered around the natural world as he shared his vast knowledge of the ecology and wildlife in the area. During World War I, he joined the army at the age of 64 and was tragically killed by a German sniper near the Beho Beho River in the western section of the reserve, where his remains are buried. In 1982 the area was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site highlighting the importance of this pristine wilderness area.

In 2017 there was huge controversy with Tanzania’s government announcing a Nyerere hydropower project at Stiegler’s Gorge in the reserve. The aim of the project is to support the national goal of electrifying every household in Tanzania and is set to commence operation from June 2022. The construction of the Stiegler dam project (located about 50 km from Siwandu camp) has resulted in a new network of park roads, with the view that on the completion of the dam, better road infrastructure will be inplace for tourism and game viewing. The bulk of its construction truck traffic has been during the quieter period during the pandemic. We can say from first hand experience that while it's not ideal to see trucks in the park while on safari, that we have witnessed very high levels of courtesy from the truck drivers for our safari vehicles and guests, on these new and well maintained main park roads.

What is unique about the Nyerere National Park?

Nyerere is one of the few places in Tanzania that allows for an exciting combination of traditional game drives and water-based safari. During your boating safari, chances are excellent you will spot a variety of wildlife coming down and into the water to quench their thirst. It is an unusual perspective to observe game from a boat in the water, as if you are looking from the inside, outwards. Along the way you will marvel at the large concentrations of honking hippos and belly crawling crocodiles, offering an up close perspective at these interesting water mammals. During hot days you may even find herds of elephants cooling down in the water or crossing a waterway with their trunks raised like periscopes.

Siwandu boating safari

With Nyerere located off the main tourist circuit, this park in the South of Tanzania offers the chance to fully immerse yourself in nature without the presence of other vehicles or fellow travellers. Chances are pretty good that you will enjoy your wildlife sightings alone and without pressure to leave a sighting, until you are ready. The Nyerere National Park is a great alternative to the popular Serengeti located on the Northern Safari Circuit if you are seeking a more exclusive safari experience away from crowds.

In addition to boating safaris, walking safaris in the company of an armed TANAPA ranger is also a popular activity. During your walk you will have the opportunity to learn more about the “little five”, the fauna and flora in the area, stop to look at spoor and encounter wildlife sightings. Being on foot in big game terrain is the ultimate natural high, adrenaline pumping and your senses heightened as you get to fully immerse yourself in your immediate surroundings.

What is the wildlife experience like in the Nyerere National Park?

With over 30,000 km2 of land to explore during your game drive you will have plenty of opportunity to search and enjoy a diverse range of species. You are bound to come across large herds of elephant and buffalo. A highlight of a visit to Nyerere will include meeting up with a pack of African Wild Dogs.

Along the Rufiji waterways and lakes you will witness plenty of hippos and crocodiles too. Some of the rare species of antelope include the Roan Antelope, Brindled Gnu, Lichtenstein hartebeest, roan and sable antelopes and Kudu. Predators such as lions, hyenas and leopards can also be spotted. Rhino do inhabit Nyerere in small numbers, but sightings are extremely rare and should not be expected. Cheetah sightings are not common in the park.

With over 440 species of birds recorded in this area, Nyerere will delight any ornithophile. The pel’s fishing owls and white backed heron are just a few of the rare species of birds that can be found amidst the staggering 2100 plant species.

Lion stalking an impala
Hippo at Siwandu

Which time of the year is best to visit the Nyerere National Park?

The best time to visit the Nyerere National Park is during the dry season from June until October. This coincides with the main safari season in East Africa. During this time wildlife is concentrated around the waterholes, lakes and rivers, which make it easier to track and find. With the bush less dense and grasslands receding, this time of the year is also ideal for viewing and photographing wildlife. Chances are excellent that you may spot a pride of lions hunting close to the shores of Lake Nzerakera as they wait around for animals to come down for a drink. Even though Nyerere experiences similar temperatures throughout the year because it is located close to the equator, this time of the year may be slightly cooler and less humid.

During November and December Nyerere usually enjoys its first rains after a long dry season. This signals the start of what is called the ‘short rains’. A few weeks after the first rains have fallen, the landscape changes dramatically. Depending on the rainfall levels, new grasses, leaves and flowers may appear in an overnight flush, painting the landscape in verdant colours. It can be quite hot and humid during this time until the end of March when the rainy season starts again. Game is still plentiful though their movements will change as they tend to move further away from the lakes as small pools or pans of water appear. Now is the peak time for Impala to give birth. It is a lovely time to experience the magnitude of spindly legged newly born Impala calves. With an increase in Impala numbers, predators have more food available with sightings of hyena, lion and wild dog witnessed with greater success.

From November many migrant bird species arrive in the area. Both intra-African and Palearctic migrants like the Woodland Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, European Roller, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Bee-Eater, Wahlberg’s Eagle and all the Cuckoo species can be seen here.
The ‘green season’ marks a typical dry spell during January and February before the long rains start again, in March. At this time of the year the vegetation is green though the grasses are still receded allowing for good game viewing conditions. You may find the Northern Carmine bee-eaters following game-viewers, snacking on disturbed insects. Most days will be dry but refreshing afternoon or early morning showers may occur towards the end of this period.

Most camps in Nyerere will close for the duration of the long rainy season from mid-March to end May. The roads get muddy and difficult to navigate, with accessibility limited. From June onwards most of the rain will be over and camps will reopen for the main safari season. The presence and absence of rain creates a beautiful rhythm around which everything in nature revolves.

Stork Siwandu

How to access the Nyerere National Park

Nyerere National Park is located in south eastern Tanzania, bordered by Mikumi National Park to the northwest and Udzungwa Mountains National Park to the west.The best way to access the park is by air. There are daily scheduled flights from either Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar with a flight time of under an hour to a variety of different airstrips in Nyerere. There are several airlines serving this route, some of which include Coastal Aviation, Safari Link and Auric Air. All these airlines have a reliable service and credible safety record. Guests visiting Siwandu camp can fly directly to Siwandu airstrip.

Nyerere National Park can also be accessed by road from either Dar es Salaam or Arusha. The road distance varies from 184 km to 230 km depending on which gate or entry point of Nyerere National Park you want to access. In terms of journey time, typically you want to allow for 6 hours for most Park entry gates such as Mtemere and Matembwe, and up to 6 to 6.5 hours for gates on the northern side of Selous Game Reserve. Road conditions are poor in places with the last 75 km to the park being on a bumpy gravel road.

For those who are feeling adventurous with an interest in experiential travel, there is no better way, in our view, to get to the park than by the TAZARA train from Dar. This is the Tanzania to Zambia train that departs from Dar twice-weekly on a Tuesday and Friday with a journey time of approximately 4.5 hours. The train is remarkably punctual but on some days the delay can be for hours with it occasionally not running at all.

Staying at Siwandu Camp in the Nyerere National Park

Selous Safari Company’s history began in the Selous Game Reserve back in 1988 when an Englishman, Charles Dobie founded the company. Siwandu camp sits, proudly nestled in a forest of palms on the shores of Lake Nzerakera, part of the watery byways of the Rufiji River system. The camp is perfectly situated to fully experience the breathtaking landscape and abundant wildlife of the Nyerere National Park. Due to its location next to Lake Nzerakera we offer both game drive experiences in our open sided 4WDs, plus water-based safaris on our pontoon boat and speed boats.

It is from Lake Nzerakera where you can explore the lake and the waterways of the Rufiji river. This is no ordinary boat ride. Expect to be wowed with a mouthwatering lunch service during your water safari. You will be amazed at what our chefs achieve outside the confines of the kitchen.

After a boating or game drive experience there is plenty of time to enjoy the comfort of our camp. Siwandu’s semi-permanent luxury tents are spacious, comfortable and private. The shaded pool area is utter bliss for cooling down and relaxing before you depart on your afternoon activity.

Breakfast next to Lake Nzerakera

When staying with us we will make sure your dining experiences are romantic and special, whether setting up a table for dinner in a private elevated location in camp just for you or serving breakfast on the banks of Lake Nzerakera, or by the fireside under the african star canopy.

We also offer additional walking safaris or fishing activities you can book directly with us. For more information contact our reservations team at reservations@selous.com.

How many days should you set aside to explore the Nyerere National Park?

We recommend you spend at least four nights at Siwandu in the Nyerere National Park. This will give you enough time to experience all the water and land based safari activities. If you have more time to spare you can take advantage of our special longer stay value added packages by staying for seven nights and only paying for five nights.

Where should you head to next?

Combining the Ruaha National Park in the South of Tanzania with a safari experience in the Nyerere National park is a popular choice for our guests. The Ruaha National Park is also well off the beaten track with our camp, Jongomero tucked away in the most remote corner of the park. The park is about 130 kilometers west of Iringa and 625 kilometers from Dar es Salaam.

Giraffes at Siwandu

Nyerere National Park is a wildlife haven with an exceptional habitat for a massive variety of animals resulting in rewarding wildlife sightings. Due to it being far off the main tourist circuit, most of these animals have had limited human interactions making it a special place to visit and encounter game. The privacy and seclusion of this area makes it far less crowded than the parks in the Northern circuit, a true delight for wildlife connoisseurs or those celebrating a special honeymoon, milestone birthday, anniversary or family get together.